0500: Alarm stridently calls me from my bed. Sleepily get up. Had been enjoying a lovely dream but it’s already fading. Kettle on.
Call Pete on the radio. Responds, “Good morning,” with the emphasis on “good”. Cockpit canopy down. Make hot cuppas. Put away bedding. Hook up water pressure pump. Calculate some waypoints and put them into the GPS. Turn the spreader lights on and lift the anchor which comes up clean not needing to be hosed down. Tie off anchor as Delma steers us out to deeper water past Kajan who is now showing a light.
Put up mainsail and secure it. Kajan underway too and assumes the lead. Get ready for sea: last minute check of stowage on deck. Dog down the for’rd hatch although the water is calm and just small puffs of breeze. Turn the navigation tri-light and both compass lights on and the cockpit light off. Set GPS to first waypoint and head out to sea towards it. Steering manually for a while.
First grey of dawn lighting the eastern sky. Tinges of red that later turns into a lacklustre dawn. Sky doesn’t look too bad at all with only scattered cumulus clouds. There is a line of them overhead but they pass by. Shouldn’t be any change associated with them that would bother us. Short swells coming into the port and Lowana IV’s bow is lifting to them.
0645: Outside port and nearly time to turn. Pete calls. Says he’s had enough and is going to go to Trepang Bay and then home. Wish him bon-voyage and he responds same. Wishes us a pleasant voyage. We turn to starboard. Pete keeps heading on towards Vashon Point.
0705: Miss the weather forecast while laying out lines and them through blocks back to the cockpit for a boom preventer system. The idea is to hold the main boom so it doesn’t accidentally gybe across and hit one of us on the head.
Swells larger and longer now. Breeze builds slightly as we clear Smith Point before we turn directly east into the sun making just over 4 kts motoring under mainsail. Think about putting up the staysail but the wind is on the nose mostly so it’ll just flap about. Some fishing dinghies power out of Black Point to fish the reefs nearby. They ignore us.
0730: Kajan’s sail recedes into the distance. Couple of other fishermen in dinghies about. Wind holding steady directly from ahead. Once we get out of this reef area and into deeper water the sea should flatten a little.
0745: Smith Point off our starboard quarter at 2.5 miles.
0815: Abeam Sandy Islet #1 which is marked visually by breakers on its reefs, otherwise it’s lost against the backdrop of the coastline and sandy beaches behind. This little island marks the western entrance to Port Bremer, a closed area to yachts because of commercial pearling activities.
Breeze still light and variable with occasional stronger puffs but still from directly ahead. Sea surface is ruffled and showing a darker green colour at 15 metres deep. A dolphin fleetingly surfaces 50 metres off the starboard bow before going under again but don’t see it come up again.
0900: Put out a fishing line over the stern using a rubber bicycle tube to cushion the shock of a big fish strike. Has been quite effective in the past.
Sandy Islet #2 appears ahead at 1.5 miles and more off to starboard with Danger Point behind it. The islet is only a low thing of sand and low scrubby bushes but has a certain prettiness with different coloured green water indicating depth and small reef shallows. It’s quite exposed here and wouldn’t offer much protection in any kind of blow but might take the edge off any heavy seas.
0930: Round Sandy Islet #2 and head towards Palm Bay on Croker Island. Just one more course adjustment to do in an hours time. Ariel has come out from behind Danger Point and looks like it going to anchor off the islet. They will probably do some diving there since they apparently picked up some air tanks at Black Point. The diving here today would be very nice I think.
Warm day, faint breeze. Low sea swells with the surface faintly rippled. Depths of 7 to 8 metres as we pass by. Depth sounder shows lots of fish feeding on the bottom. Cast an expectant eye on our trailing line from time to time. This is just glorious. Not enough wind for sailing and what is there, is from the wrong direction so we’ll stay motoring with just the mainsail up for now. Averaging 4 to 4.5 kts.
Late brekky of rice cereal and soy milk. Actually this soy brand of milk happens to be quite palatable which is unusual and the rice cereal is surprising filling and tasty. Delma hands me another hot cuppa.
1030: Weather calms down even more. Wind is just zephyrs and the sea has very low short swells of about 30 cm. Lowana IV slices through the water barely rocking or pitching. Sun getting hotter. Danger Point is now abeam. Decide to try for Raffles Bay.
There’s a sail in the distance behind us off to the left of Sandy Island as we look back. Would most likely be the catamaran we saw back at Black Point. Beautiful day.
1100: Starting to push against the tide with speed down to around 3.7 kts. Raise the staysail and get the speed back up to around 4.1 kts. Calculate a series of waypoints into Raffles Bay. Read up some information about the place in a sailing guide book.
1200: Turn into Raffles Bay after giving a wide berth to Campbell’s Reef which has claimed two ships in the past.
1230: Heading into Raffles Bay. Hot. Pull in the trolling line and immediately a flock of birds start attacking a shoal of fish feeding on the surface. Might have been mackerel or trevally. Am fitting a lure to a rod when there’s a huge splash off the starboard bow about 100 metres away. Line flicks out and the lure skims and glints irresistibly over the surface but nothing happens. Dead. Birds are gone. No splashes.
Gunyanah is heading out of Raffles Bay. Call them on the VHF radio and ask about going ashore. They tell me it’s aboriginal land we need permission. Give me some sound advice about accessing this bay as there are pearl rafts and lines everywhere. Follow a marked channel down the eastern side to find an anchorage off the site of some old ruins from an abandoned settlement once called Fort Wellington.
Raffles Bay was named by Captain Phillip Parker King when he sailed along the Northern Territory coast towards the west between 1818. Captain James Stirling who later founded a Western Australian colony at Perth established a military outpost here with a small company of soldiers, marines, sailors, a surgeon, convicts, a surgeon and a storekeeper in 1827. Problems of disease, hostile aborigines, lack of expected trade with the Malays and isolation forced the abandonment of the outpost in 1829.
Call Raffles Bay on VHF radio channel 16 and 72 but get no response. We see several dinghies come out and work the pearl lines later.
1320: Anchor down in 2.5 metres depth. Low tide should be at 1400 hrs. Northerly sea breezes spring up whipping the surface of the bay with whitecaps. Hot. Take an ice cold soft drink from the fridge which is working exceptionally well now. Tidy up. Put up canopies against the sun but not the big one because the wind is still a bit blowy. Have a lunch of rice biscuits, sardines, tomato and pickled cucumbers.
1430: Wind alternately gusting slightly then dying. Water is easing. Would love permission to go ashore and inspect the old ruins but can’t raise anyone on the radio.
Distance today was 32 miles. Bay is wide and shallow. Low lying land with long stretches of beach interspersed with rocky headlands and occasionally low cliffs.
1730: Spend the afternoon in the cool breeze blowing through the front hatch shaded by a blue plastic cover. Wonderful. Both of us fall asleep at one point. Get cramps in legs so have to get out of bed quickly to stretch it away.
Hardly a cloud in the sky as the sun sinks to the low western horizon. A third small tree-covered island lies to the south about half a mile away. The white slash of cliff-face marks the site of the old settlement and some rocks extending off the shoreline earlier are now covered by the tide. Sea is flat and rippled. Northerly afternoon sea breezes are dying down to about 6 to 8 kts.
1835: Watch as dozens of large seabirds circle and wheel slowly across the bay in the fading dusk. They appear to be a black colour with a white breast, built for speed with forked tails and slender wings with sharp wingtips. Not sure what they area. A dozen or so descend to the surface of the sea and wheel about 150 metres behind us.
2000: VHF radio crackles into life with a staccato call for any vessel on the western side of Croker Island. I respond to the call identifying ourselves and that we’re anchored in Raffles Bay. Unable to identify the caller as it’s too intermittent. Can just hear snatches of the call though the voice doesn’t sound urgent or in distress. Try several times but can’t copy anything at all. Consider going back out into Bowen Strait but decide it would be difficult, even dangerous trying to thread through the lines of pearl rafts and lines in the dark. . Call a couple of more times over the next hour or so but nothing more is heard.
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